The top five non-DCFC American soccer storylines that I’ll be watching this year.
1. World Cup 2014
Every four years when the World Cup takes place, the lazy sportswriters and media of America copy and paste their articles from 1998 about how soccer is the most popular game in every country except the US (False), how the US is the only country that uses the word “soccer” (False), and how the game is popular among children and teens but no one else (Falser and Falser by the year).
A more important thing that happens every four years is that millions of people are exposed to a game they don’t normally follow, and some of them get hooked. That’s exactly what happened with me, and I’ve heard or read many anecdotes that are similar. While I understand the “club over country” mantra of many supporters, they should realize that the World Cup is a powerful gateway drug to the game of soccer. Each new fan is a potential club supporter, which leads to story number 2.
2. New Clubs
As a brand new soccer fan following World Cup 2006, I didn’t have a local team to latch onto. Eight years later, the expansion of MLS and the leagues below it has provided more and more opportunities for those who wish to direct their passions locally.
The most anticipated new club looks to be Indy Eleven (NASL), which sold so many 2014 season tickets (7000) that the front office had to cut sales off altogether. Their newly-renovated stadium will seat just over 12,000 when completed later this year.
Other notable expansion teams for 2014:
– Ottawa Fury FC (NASL) features a stadium plan equally impressive to that of Indy:
– Sacramento Republic FC (USL-Pro) will be coached by former US National Teamer and two-time MLS MVP Preki.
– Oklahoma City Energy FC (USL-Pro) will be coached by the recently-retired Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and has announced a stadium plan with an eye towards a possible future MLS bid.
I could’ve also listed Nashville FC here, but there is something much more interesting about them than the fact that they are new:
3. Supporter Ownership
“The membership is your voice, your vote,” Nashville FC’s Vice President of Soccer Nolan Pittman said about the opportunities with the club. “Whether you have a very thick checkbook or not, you can still participate.”
“We’re trying to make it that as a member of the club; you have open access to all the things you would want to have access to as a decision maker. We want to build an online community for our members to exchange ideas freely. You never know what may come from two passionate members. We have a board of advisors that will make the day-to-day decisions, but those decisions are nominated and voted on by all of the members,” Pittman added. “So if somebody is not doing a good job or running against the culture of the club, they will find themselves out of a job very quick.”
(You can find more information and become a member here.)
It will be extremely interesting to see how this approach plays out and if other new clubs (or existing ones) will adopt the model if it proves to be successful.
On a related note, it’s unclear what Don Garber’s opinions on supporter-ownership in MLS are, but the Black Army 1850’s actions may force him to make his thoughts known. In the aftermath of the league’s purchase of Chivas USA from Jorge Vergara, the group announced its intent to raise funds towards the purchase of the club’s operating rights.
We will be looking to establish ourselves this season and start a fund drive to purchase this team. We do not request a discount but a fair chance to buy this club. We look forward to raising 70-100 million dollars before the end of the season. If a deal is made and the club is sold to a different owner, we will donate no less than 100% of the funds raised to MLS Works.
4. American Soccer League
From the very inception of MLS in 1996, there has been debate over the league’s calendar. Some see the spring-to-fall schedule as a necessity to avoid frigid winter weather and direct competition with the NFL for viewers. Others believe the fall-to-spring schedule would further legitimize MLS by putting it on the same cycle as the big European leagues.
Beginning this fall, the new American Soccer League will contribute to this discussion by employing a fall-to-spring schedule. The league will initially be made up of teams from the Northeast and will begin play as part of the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) – the level below the NPSL and PDL.
The ASL’s founders have also stated their goal of eventually attaining 3rd-division status alongside USL-Pro:
American Professional Soccer (APS) is the parent company of American Soccer League (ASL). The APS founders’ vision is to have APS as a sanctioned professional league under USSF when the proper protocols and procedures have been established to fit under the Division 3 USSF guidelines. In the meantime, ASL is the subsidiary of the APS and will play as a sanctioned league in the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA). The ASL will be the premier league in the U.S. to develop the next level of young Americans and promote these players to the highest levels of the professional game whether in North America or throughout the world. The league structure and rules have been established to encourage proactive movement of players to the next level whenever the players have garnered outside interest.
5. Bob Bradley at Stabæk
While opportunities for Americans looking to play in Europe have steadily increased over the past 10-15 years, head coaching positions have been virtually nonexistent. Those of us hoping to see someone break this ‘European Glass Ceiling’ will be watching closely as Bob Bradley takes charge of Stabæk, which won promotion to Norway’s top league (Tippeligaen) for 2014. Although this may not be as exciting as seeing an American coaching in the Premier League or Bundesliga, Bradley is still young enough (56) to move up the ranks if he is successful in his new position.
Stabæk’s season begins on March 30th and runs to early November.